2002 volume 34(12) pages 2127 – 2154

Cite as:
Donald B, 2002, "Spinning Toronto's golden age: the making of a 'city that worked'" Environment and Planning A 34(12) 2127 – 2154

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Spinning Toronto's golden age: the making of a 'city that worked'

Betsy Donald

Received 16 May 2002; in revised form 21 June 2002

Abstract. In this paper I explore the key elements of the mode of regulation operating at the urban scale in Toronto's postwar period to learn what it was that inspired an entire generation of scholars to call Toronto the 'city that works' in this period. Despite the significant amount of literature discussing the general character of regulation operating at the city-region scale in the Fordist or managerial period of urban development, it is argued that surprisingly little empirical research has actually documented what allegedly made these Fordist metropolitan regions 'work'. Drawing on archival research in addition to insights from Canadian applied regulation theory and from an analysis of Canada's changing fiscal federalism, I argue that, although Toronto did develop within the context of a Fordist regime of accumulation, the particular elements of the mode of regulation it developed at the urban scale were distinctive and important in providing the conditions underlying the economic success of the region. Toronto may have benefited disproportionately from national regulatory policies. However, its economic dynamism also constituted one of the cornerstones of the nation's economic and social viability. Further, its more localized regulatory structures and social context had a specific institution al and cultural richness, which, in concert with its highly developed economic structure, served to stave off many of the crisis tendencies being felt by other industrial regions in the 1970s and 1980s. One of the principal and unique institutional innovations was the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto ('Metro'), which can be regarded as a key (although hitherto underemphasized) component of the Canadian Fordist regime of accumulation. More than just a conduit through which nationally driven Keynesian welfare programs were delivered, Metro was also an innovator of unique urban-based postwar development policies. I conclude by demonstrating what this story of postwar Toronto can tell us more generally about urban government and governance under Fordism, and about the managerial paradigm and the regulation approach.

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